More than 2,500 sworn deputies make up the San Diego Sheriff's Department and the man elected to represent them is now breaking his silence after weeks of listening to what he describes as anti-law enforcement rhetoric.
David Leonhardi, president of the Deputy Sheriff's Association of San Diego County, wrote an opinion piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune published Thursday where he said his department is being unfairly portrayed by the media, leading to "community fear-mongering."
"I have friends that stood on these skirmish lines across from people in their own community that were having rocks and bottles and different things thrown at them" Leonhardi said. "And that's frustrating for deputies because they go 'I haven't treated people wrong, I shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of bad actors that sometimes were thousands and thousands of miles away."
NBC 7 sat down with Leonhardi Thursday to talk about some of the specific ways deputies are being misrepresented.
"Some of the claims are we're the cause of the violence at these protests, that our mere presence can be the cause of violence sometimes," said Leonhardi in reference to what he says are one-sided sound bites from protestors claiming certain gatherings were peaceful until law enforcement officers started using force.
"And those are things the deputies out on the line are saying 'That's not true'" said Leonhardi.
Leonhardi said he empathizes with the real emotion brought on by the killing of George Floyd and wishes just one of the other officers had stepped in to stop it.
While he can't speak for other agencies or departments, he pushes back on the idea of systemic racism within the San Diego Sheriff's Department.
"I think we do a terrific job of trying to represent everyone in our community," said Leonhardi.
Leonhardi is calling on San Diegans fighting for racial equality to consider law enforcement as part of the solution saying, "We're not on different sides, we can work together."
In his published opinion article Leonhardi wrote "remember that the narrative you share, the bias you breathe life into, without considering the perspective of law enforcement, is contributing to a dangerous landscape for law enforcement that will, unfortunately, have a ripple effect into communities of San Diego County."
To read the opinion piece on the Tribune's website, click here.